Bahamas Culture: Faces of a Weekend in Nassau

Bahamas, Caribbean, Cultural Travel, Restaurant Reviews — By on October 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

By Patty Hodapp

Deputy Editor

“Attention incoming passengers, if Patricia Hodapp is in the customs area will she please identify herself. Attention passengers, Patricia Hodapp, kindly come forward.”

My attention, hovering somewhere between outer space and the grinning Nassau customs official, snapped to. Gulp. Was that my name they called? I’m nobody important, so either I was in trouble or in trouble. “ATTENTION PASSENGERS, WILL PATRICIA HODAPP PLEASE COME FORWARD.”

Oh Jesus.

A man with a megaphone parted the customs crowd of vacationing families and honeymooning couples. He found me, blushing, hand raised.

“Hello, ma’am,” (pronounced it MAM). “How are ya doing today? Please come with me, your ride is waiting for ya.”

I slunk past a glaring woman wearing a white shirt that screamed JUST MARRIED, and 40 more frustrated people behind her rolling their eyes. A smiling Bahamian woman strode forward, hand outstretched, to clasp my passport. “I’m with the tourist board, welcome to the Bahamas ma’am. I’ll take care of this ma’am, sit ya self down there,” she drawls, pointing to a wicker chair.

“Sure, take your time,” I choke, still shocked.

“Ma’am, never tell a Bahamian to take their time,” she laughs over her shoulder. “We already be on island time in da first place and nothing would ever get done.”

Ten minutes later I clenched my stamped passport and a complementary shot of coconut rum. Unfortunately, the tourism lady jumped the same JUST MARRIED bride at the bar to get me the shot. I sheepishly downed it, striking out again with bridezilla.

***

The tourism lady walked me through the heat to the car and to Vincent. Vincent drove me to Graycliff Cigar Factory, where I stayed for the weekend. And Vincent had an opinion about everything. From cursing out a cocky tourist who crashed his rented motorbike on a hairpin turn in front of us, to eloquent prose on why the U.S. was wasting time in Iraq, Vincent entertained my questions for the entire thirty minute drive.

Nassau is the Bahamas’ capital, located on New Providence island, one of the 700+ islands and islets in the Bahamas. Only 29 are inhabited, “so if we love you, we’ll give you one” he says, winking in the review mirror. Vincent visited all 700 islands via his 18-year service in the Bahamas Coast Guard. He policed drugs and illegal immigrants and finally retired after getting shot twice. But, he is blessed, he says, because he drives for his father’s car company and spends life with his wife and two sons.

Vincent is all one-liners and wisdom. According to him, the Bahamas have three seasons. Last summer, this summer and next summer. There are also three types of people in the world: people who watch things happen, people who make things happen, and people who wonder what happened. To bring back cuban cigars just remove the label, “it’s called smuggling.” And, with regards to the 2008 US ecomonic crash, “if the US sneezes, the Bahamas catch a cold. But when the US caught a cold [in 2008] the Bahamas caught pneumonia.” As we pass the cemetery where celebrity Anna Nicole Smith was buried in 2007, he points out the window and says, “She lived fast and died young mon, what a shame…what a shame.” He sings some old song about being a child of the universe.

Vincent tells me he frequently drives cool cats like Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. “And now, I have you today. It’s a good day,” he says as he pulls my bag out of the car at The Graycliff Estate.

***

Enrico Garzaroli is the man. Within minutes of meeting him, he slings his huge arm around my shoulders and steers me to a chair in his Graycliff cigar factory. “Shet, girl, you never roll a cigar?”

His curse-words to real-words ratio is at least 10:1, decorating his thick Italian accent with “shets” and “fecks” between sound effects, large hand gestures and a full-body belly laugh.

“Well, roll a good cigar and I’ll give you a special Brazilian drink, it’s the best fecking shet.”

I nearly choke. But I roll a passable cigar, he nods and winks. And the Caipirinha is tasty.

Enrico is the wine and cigar aficionado of the Bahamas, and he looks exactly like a modern day hybrid of Goldfinger and an Italian Daddy Warbucks. He sports a massive gold watch, a thin chain looped around a treasure coin from a Spanish shipwreck, and a print button up tucked into pinstripe pants.

Enrico bought the Graycliff estate in 1972. The mansion was originally built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a famous Caribbean pirate who plundered treasure ships along the Spanish Main.

The basement, a pirate prison turned wine cellar, holds the world’s third largest private wine collection—250,000 bottles from 400 vintners in 15 countries. This collection includes one of the world’s oldest bottles of wine, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein worth $200,000. Ironically, Enrico also has one of the world’s most extensive menus of bottled water.

Graycliff Restaurant reputedly boasts some of the best gourmet food on the island. From what I tasted, I don’t doubt it. Throughout our zillion course dinner of lobster cappuccino, steak, garlic potatoes, conch fritters, stone crab and fish-bowl size glasses of wine, he made me taste every dish: “try it, try it [he motions in a big circle with his fist] you never try it? You’ll love this shet girl.”

When I struggle to rip open the crab claw, he laughs his big laugh at my red-faced effort. “You’re doing it wrong man, twist it like ‘schwhoop!’” [he locks his knuckles together and pulls them apart in a violent motion, then gestures to a friend next to me] “help her get that shet. No, no, she’s doing it wrong.” This 60-something man has me so captivated that I eat everything put in front of me—suddenly I’m a seafood hater turned lover. And he nods briskly after every course, “See, what I tell you, it’s good shet, you understand me?”

He doesn’t eat with us, but folds his upper body over the large dining room table. It shakes and vibrates every time he laughs, and the wine glasses jump when he pounds his fist after a good joke.

Enrico is effortlessly badass. He owns a block of wood from Christopher Columbus’s ship. Not kidding. He’d pass out pantyhose from his father’s seamless pantyhose factory to women in nightclubs (“to get the attention of the girls”) back when seamless pantyhose were a delicacy. Also not kidding. And he raced European cars along the Italian Riviera when he was young. (Did he ever get into an accident? “Ya but who gives a shet man, I’m alive aren’t I?”)

Enrico spends the better part of the weekend teaching me to light a cigar using one match and the Caribbean breeze. So I can’t open a crab claw and it takes me three days to finish my original cigar, but Enrico doesn’t care. He lights it for me every time I want to smoke. He is gracious, but real. Everything about him oozes Italian hospitality. I leave with a zip lock bag full of cigars. And as I rush out the Mahogany door for the last time, he smacks two huge kisses, Italian-style, on my left and right cheeks. “Ciao, ciao baby, visit soon. Keep working on that light.”

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